The Stanford Cardinal come into the 2010-2011 season high in the Pac-10 preseason rankings. A phenomenal recruiting class wear redshirts and warm the bench this year. Stacked with Seniors, the offense is contoured for a pass heavy attack, while the defense (which often seemed anemic at times last season) looks to control 3 of the premier QB's in college football.
Here are 5 under the radar players who will be house hold names in Palo Alto by the end of this season.
Richard Sherman, Senior Cornerback.
Sherman was recruited out of Dominguez HS in Compton CA as an outstanding track and field star. It just so happened he was also fairly good on a football field. Not good enough to where playing Division 1 near home looked promising, so he came to Stanford for the oppurtunity to play. Sherman started at WR four years ago, compiling 1,340 yards and seven touchdowns until he was converted (willingly) to CB after his sophomore year.
Sherman was surprising at his ability to learn the cornerback position. He compiled 62 tackles (4th most on the squad last year), two interceptions, and eight passes defended. Those two interceptions came at the end of the year, against Matt Barkley and USC, as well as against Cal Berkley.
Sherman was expected to be a leader in a young and inexperienced secondary. Coming into this year the learning curve should be lessened and the secondary should improve. Going into his last year of eligibility Richard Sherman will show the same abilities exhibited at the end of the regular season last year.
Shayne Skov, Inside Linebacker
Skov often seemed like the entire Cardinal run defense last year. A tenacious tackler with a nose for the ball and instincts coach Harbaugh loves, Skov earned honorable mention freshman All-America marks by CollegeFootballNews.com. Appearing in all 13 games, and starting the last seven contests, Skov finished the season as the team's third leading tackler with 62 total stops, including 33 unassisted efforts. Skov had 3.0 tackles-for-loss and was also credited with one pass breakup.
What's more impressive than the stats above is the fact that Shayne Skov is entering only his sophomore season. An impressive freshman on a Cinderella team can go under the radar ,but a sophomore leader on defense for one of the best teams in the Pac-10 will not.
Chris Owusu, Junior Wide Receiver
Having previously shown flashes of brilliance and drop your foam finger speed, Owusu enters his junior season primed . He was tied for the lead of the Cardinal receiving core with five touchdowns in his sophomore campaign. An electrifying kick returner, Owusu comes into this season as a Sporting News and Playboy All-American at Kick Returner.
Entering his junior season, Owusu is averaging 29.3 yards per kickoff return (51 for 1493) for his career, which ranks first on Stanford's all-time career list. His 1,493 kickoff return yards rank third all-time on the Stanford Kick Return list, only 517 shy of Ryan Wells' (1999-02) career mark of 2,010 (91 returns).
With an offense that will be geared for the pass, and Ryan Whalen drawing double teams at Flanker, the 6-2 200 pound Owusu looks to be the break out player for the Stanford offense this year.
Owen Marecic, Starting Fullback and Inside Linebacker
Enough has been said about Marecic that I shouldn't have to say anymore. For those who haven't heard, coach Harbaugh likes Marecic....a lot! So much so that Marecic has not only won the captaincy of the Cardinal football team for 2010-11, but also won the right to start at fullback and inside linebacker.
The conversion to a dual role will not be a new thing for Marecic, as he was often lined up on defense for goal line and short yardage situations last year. To ensure his success on defense, coach Harbaugh gave Marecic most of his rep's this spring and summer at the inside linebacker position.
Awarded Pac-10 honorable mention selections at fullback for the past three seasons, the Cardinal running game will hinge on how much is in his tank.
Matthew Masifilo, Defensive Lineman
Matthew began last season as the starting tackle on a talented defensive line but was limited to eight games after suffering a knee injury in the second game of the season at Wake Forest. He missed the next five games before returning to action for the Arizona State game and came back with a flourish. Masifilo finished the season with 18 tackles, including 11 solo efforts, and one sack. Before his injury, Masifilo had four tackles at Wake Forest. After his recovery, Masifilo was devestating in the win over No. 11 USC on Nov. 14 compiling an interception on a deflected Matt Barkley pass in the first quarter, as well as being credited with a sack. At the Brut Sun Bowl he turned in a solid performance against Oklahoma with six total tackles, including one for a loss.
Entering his Junior year of eligibility, Masifilo has a chip on his shoulder and a lot to prove. Look for the USC version of Masifilo and not the Wake Forest version. And while you're at it, you might want to figure out how to pronounce his name....you'll be hearing it a lot.